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'Celebrate' disability

Shayal Devi
Monday, November 27, 2017

DESPITE numerous strides made towards achieving equal rights for all, it is no secret that persons with disabilities continue to face discrimination in many facets of life.

Globally, persons with disabilities number about one billion. Out of this number, about 80 per cent live in developing countries.

And according to Assistant Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation Veena Bhatnagar, 10 per cent of the Fijian population is made up of persons living with disabilities.

Last week, citizens in Ba marked International Day for Persons with Disabilities, an event that has been commemorated globally since 1992.

Ms Bhatnagar said while people with disabilities contributed immensely to the community, many times they were abused verbally and physically and discriminated against.

"These persons are equally entitled to constitutional equality and human rights and we are here to especially celebrate these rights that persons with special needs are entitled to," she said.

"Persons with disabilities, 'the world's largest minority', have generally poorer health, lower education achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities.

"This is largely due to the lack of services available to them, like information and communications technology, justice or transportation and the many obstacles they face in their everyday lives."

Children with disabilities are at a higher risk of violence. Ms Bhatnagar said children with disabilities were almost four times more likely to experience violence than those without disabilities.

"Adults with some form of disability are 1.5 times more likely to be a victim of violence than those without a disability and adults with mental health conditions are at nearly four times the risk of experiencing violence.

"Factors which place people with disabilities at a higher risk of violence include stigma, discrimination and ignorance about disability as well as a lack of social support for those who care for them."

Such barriers, Ms Bhatnagar said, were a detriment to society as a whole and accessibility was necessary to achieve progress and development for all.

Recognising this, she said Government had initiatives aimed at empowering and supporting Fijians with special needs.

"Fiji recently deposited with the United Nations Treaty Office our instrument of ratification to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the new Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill that is aligned to the convention is currently with the relevant parliamentary standing committee for review.

"To ensure compliance and implementation of the convention and the Bill once enacted, the Fiji National Council for Disabled Persons has been allocated funding of $1.2 million, an increase of over $700,000.

"Also, Government has allocated an estimated budget of $7m as a separate allowance for persons with permanent disabilities, providing a monthly allowance of $90 per person."

She said the disability allowance scheme could be accessed through any social welfare office. A total of $1.1m was also provided as grants to disability provider organisations serving disabled persons.

About $500,000 was also allocated to construct a Western Disability Centre similar to a facility in Labasa. A 300 per cent tax deduction on wages paid to employees with disabilities is also in place as well as bus fare subsidies for persons with disabilities.

"Additionally, $120,000 has been allocated to promote participation of disabled persons in sporting activities. Government has provided funding to the Fiji Roads Authority (FRA) to ensure that new roads and footpaths are disabled-friendly and provide easy access.

"Apart from this, we have made a separate allocation of $500,000 to FRA to retrofit existing footpaths, starting within the municipalities.

"Furthermore, Government has also allocated $850,000 in this budget to the Frank Hilton Organisation to detect disabilities in very young children and then intervene with appropriate therapies.

"The organisation's speech therapists, audiologists, physical therapists and counsellors are widely respected for the outstanding work they do in diagnosing, treating disabilities and in working closely with families to help them adapt to raising children with special needs."

Ms Bhatnagar also said Fiji was in the process to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which recognised that the existence of barriers constituted a central component of disability.

Under the convention, disability was an evolving concept that "resulted from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hindered their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others".

She said the creation of an inclusive environment could not be achieved by Government alone.

"Every Fijian must take responsibility for how they treat others, especially those who need a little help, a little understanding and compassion to enjoy their rights. We need to look out for our loved ones with disabilities because change begins from home."

The theme for this year's event is "Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all".








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